Lenin on the Question of Nationality

By Alfred D. Low | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Lenin on the Transient Character of Nationalism

LENIN'S NEGATIVISM

Nationalism was looked upon by Lenin as a temporary phenomenon. It was to him a by-product of the historical evolution of capitalism.1 Owing its origin to it, nationalism was also doomed to die with it. This conviction of the merely transient character of the movement of nationalism colored Lenin's entire thinking about the nationality problem.

Lenin neither approved nor disapproved of the national movement and of its objective, the independent national state. He recognized the reality of national feeling and potency of national endeavors and was impressed by the strength of some national movements. His major, his only, concern was the class struggle and the preparation for the "proletarian" seizure of power. His sense for tactical opportunities made him look upon the national liberation movement as a potential ally2 of the proletariat of the dominant and imperialist nations.

But he also looked upon nationalism as a possible rival to socialism. He feared its appeal to the proletariat; he excoriated national culture and pleaded for international culture3 and assimilation. A potential temporary ally of the proletariat, nationalism was also likely to be dangerous to it, to undermine the workers' solidarity, to become a weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie and of Tsarism. It was a two-edged sword and had to be carefully wielded.

The national movement of the oppressed nationalities was for Lenin a convenient political tool,4 never an end in itself.

-28-

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